Wanted: Female Creative Directors To Change the Media Landscape

Sept. 26, 2012 Ever been slack-jawed, burying your head in your hands mumbling,

“Who the heck approved that ad?”

I sure have. Far too many times to mention…

Whether it’s the wince-worthy teen scene in the back to school TV ad for Bic For Her (drawing snarky comments from both genders, and obliterated by teens) or the crass sexualization from A-Z (American Apparel, Axe, Go Daddy, et al) there’s a tone deaf pitch landing on women, somewhere between myopia and ‘missed opportunity,’ which starts to make sense, when one learns only 3% of the ad industry creative directors are female.

Kat Gordon, founder of the first ever 3 Percent Conference held in San Francisco tomorrow gives us the math, explaining how more female creative directors will make the world a better place, “Can you imagine any other business case study that presents itself this way: “I control 85% of the power – of a multi-trillion dollar market – yet am 97% un-represented in its making.” No. I can’t.

But it DOES explain a lot of those “whaaaat? Are you serious?” moments of incredulity when we encounter vapid stereotypes about gender, race, family and what constitutes  diversity in ad land (beyond a handful of African American ad execs) At least in the latter case, there’s emerging awareness, as industry actively takes baby steps towards recruitment, diversity and retention (see Sept. 3, 2012 NYT article) so I’m hoping this 3Percent Conference will be a catalyst for mindshifting agency cultural landscapes, rippling across talent pools akin to “The Girl Effect.”

Three. Percent. Just sit with that for a moment.

3% is a teeny weeny blip on a massive radar.

Three percent of creative directors being female is less representation than women in congress, the c-suite, behind the director’s camera, or even in mainstream media coverage,  as you can see in this data-snapshot on gender representation in the news

3% gives a pretty dang massive margin of error in NOT addressing the needs of over half the population, even when you factor in AdAge’s newly anointed “100 most influential women in advertising.”

Increasing female creative directors when viewed through the lens of  ‘game-changers,’ is germane at the most base level of “media and marketing’s impact on kids.” After all, these are instrumental creators of imagery in the cultural zeitgeist .

Take a hot button of my own, ads depicting the sexualization of children… 

I’m not naïve enough to declare full eradication of using children as props or youth showcased as mini-me/adult wannabes, but I have a stiff hunch that if ad agencies were staffed with more diversity beyond 3% (including moms/dads/families) it would alter the advertising landscape significantly. (let’s face it, the ratio of young single hipsters to those seeking life balance in this churn-n-burn industry is not pretty, and that is reflected in the cultural ‘output’)

Meanwhile, say it with me ad agencies,  Girls Are Not Candies, Tweens are not Teens, and Thongs are not Undies

The 3% knows this as fact.

With 25 years as an indie creative director and writer/producer ad agency pro, it’s frustrating to see so many campaigns tack and jibe and veer waaaaay off course, especially knowing the expense and elaborate layers of approval required before copy/concept even makes it to a ‘deliverable.’ And in the case of ‘ever edgier’ campaigns, the feigned ignorance AFTER a media kerfluffle, with xyz agency hotshot hipster defending the “oops” d’jour (insert faux pas of choice, body image, stereotypes, racism, sexism, ageism) with “no one saw it that way” or the public is “over-reacting,” or my favorite, “it’s just satire” and you have a formula for a mop-up of a mess that could’ve been prevented from the get-go. Ahem, about that 3%…

What if agencies genuinely don’t “see a problem,” because 97% of ad industry creative directors view through a blurry lens? 

Surreal, but possible…And judging from a few recent ‘backroom convos’ I’ve happened upon lately with bigwig execs working in fortressed corporate silos, I may be too quick to judge subversive agendas when in some cases sheer cluelessness could be the culprit. Go figure.

What if some of these advertising and imagery foul-ups are a case of ‘we can’t create what we can’t relate to’ in terms of walking in someone else’s shoes?

Now let’s think about “filling those shoes” in a different context.

Stilettos…on a 10-year old child, posed in heavy-makeup, with a note of corporate pedophilia that would make even a fashionista squirm.

I’m referring to the now infamous Vogue Cadeaux mess last season when parents like myself had a visceral reaction to kids presented as sexualized “gifts” to be hawked like merchandise under a Christmas tree.

My initial reaction? Who’s in charge? How did this get through the ranks? And whose tail can I kick to get some critical thinking in play to recite the APA Task Force on the harm Early Sexualization?

Turns out provocateur Tom Ford stepped in as ‘guest editor’ to create that Vogue special edition, and though many saw him ‘baiting outrage’ as a business move for attention, others countered that editor Carine Roitfeld, who left her job shortly thereafter, should have ‘done something’ and her tacit approval was not a case of ‘tin-ear’ based on gender, but more of a cultural dust-up…

To me? It’s all dicey precedent setting; ‘toddlers and tiara’ style commodification, doing damage in a blink, and eroding childhood.

What can we do about the dearth of female creatives? If we move beyond 3% (and tokenism, and female creative directors as gender bellwethers and sentinels) and enable women storytellers to frame the conversations through THEIR lens from ads to scriptwriting to film, games and other entertainment media (case in point, the fabulous mom and daughter storyline in Brenda Chapman’s Brave) I have a solid feeling some of the negative impact of advertising would self-correct, and some of the positive would flourish.

In dollars. And in ‘sense.’

After all, ideally, advertising should be great storytelling, regardless of the gender roles behind the scenes, but with abysmal 3% representation, quality and tonality rarely hit the mark as ‘pitch perfect.’ For me, this is one of the few that did…an ad for Gatorade, “Keep Her in the Game” on behalf of the Women’s Sports Foundation…

It’s a Frankenstein-ish “look at what we are creating’ send up of our own pop culture cues with industry complicity; (give or take a sodium-sugar water sales pitch for needless food-dye additives) but to me, even with my ongoing counter-marketing of sports drinks as overkill for sedentary kids, this was brilliant targeting, persuasive messaging, and a well-written call to action, “Don’t Walk Away from Sports.”

Was it a female creative director? Yep. Linda Knight for TBWA/Chiat/Day, L.A. Creative Director/Copywriter. Could it have been a male creative director instead? You betcha. But I’d be 97% sure it would need to have a heavy wallop of female input at every conceptual level to be as spot on as this one.

We need some game-changing women as creative directors in advertising.

And to echo this upbeat ad, “Don’t Walk Away from the Industry”…

Let’s just lift the numbers, raise the bar, and change the channel of influence.

See you at the conference to get started!

Related Reading on Advertising’s Need for Raising the Bar on 3%

Bottom Feeders Like American Apparel Need Whacked in The Assets

Bratzillas, Novi Stars, Monster High, Same Sexualized Snore Fest

Tips From the Trenches: Re-Imagining Youth Activism

Body Blitz: APA Shows Harm of Early Sexualization

Steamed About Sexualization? Healthy Media for Youth Act: Pt1

Healthy Youth Media Act: Can Change Be Legislated? Pt2

Teen Girls: Ready for a Rebel Yell to Spark Change?

Toxic Messaging: K-Mart/Alloy Episodic Back to School

Girls Are Not Candies, Tweens Are Not Teens, Thongs Are Not Undies

Baiting Outrage: Using Hooks With Media Mindfulness

Vamp Tramp Toys: A Monster Problem (Mattel)

Sexualization Summit to Spark Change!

Spark Ignites a Summit of Powerhouses, Geena Davis & More

The Girl Revolution: Empowering Girls Vs. Consuming Them

New Moon Girl Media Community Online

Girls Prescription for Self-Worth: Respect Rx

Raising Girls Amidst Meat Marketing: Carl’s Jr, Burger King Raunch

Taking Aim at Target: Think That V is a Coinkydink?

When It’s Not Hip to Be Square, Sexist Spongebob & Burger Shots

Sexed Up M&Ms Sell Fashionably Decadent Premium Sleaze

Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag…Er…Face. Nose. Belly.

Body Image: Tips for Teens (Both Genders!) To Survive the Media Morass

What Sells: Infants As Fashion Statements & Joke Props?

So Sexy So Soon, Shaping Youth Talks to Jean Kilbourne

Beyonce’s Dereon Divas: PopTarts and Sesame Streetwalkers?

Sexist Undies: Slimy Santa Innuendo Gets the Heave Ho-Ho-Ho!

Bratz Movie Seeps Bratitude Into Kid Culture

Where My Dogs At? A Misogynistic Misfire-MTV2

Pussycat Dolls Vamp for Lame TV-the ‘F’ Word is Feminist? Hardly.

Celeb Pop Culture and Media’s Tipping Point of Toxicity

Hollywood Walk of Lame—Victoria’s Secret Models ‘Earn’ Star? For WHAT?

Mommy, Why Are Her Legs Spread Like That?

Shaping Youth Is In the L.A. Times (Miley Mess

Kids Are A Captive Audience With Ambient Advertising

Race, Gender, Sexism: Pop Culture Cues & Kids (3-part series)

Commodification of Kids: The Backlash Has Begun

Shaping Youth Through Ambient Advertising

Manga Makeovers And Other Body Image Cartoon Capers

Facelifts for Kiddie Characters?

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

Preteen Tips/How to Say it To Girls

America the Beautiful: See it. Support it.

Childhood Matters Radio Show: Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today

Packaging Boyhood Authors/Interview: What ABOUT the Boys?

Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink Leaves A Foul Taste (Again!)

Buffed Boy, Body Image and Tween Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor

Media Literacy Resources for Empowering Girls (Besides Shaping Youth, Dr.Robyn Silverman, AdProofing, PigtailPals.com,  So Sexy So Soon, Respect Rx, Rachel Simmons.com, Rosalind Wiseman.com, The Girl Revolution, TrueChild, & other youth advocate blogs, see the list of resources on our sidebar e.g. aligned orgs like: About-Face, Daughters.com, Packaging Girlhood, Hardy Girls, Healthy Women etc.

Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Recos & Must Reads

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (Packaging Boyhood, Oct 2009;  S.Y. Board Advisors)
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Sexual Teens, Sexual Media: Investigating Media’s Influence on Adolescent Sexuality Jane Brown et al (Eds)

APA Task Force on the Early Sexualization of Children (full 72pp pdf)

Girls Shape the Future: Study/Girls Inc: Early Predictors of Girls’ Adolescent Sexual Activity (summary: 8 pp pdf)

Resource List from So Sexy So Soon

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